House debates

Friday, 12 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Building and Construction Industry

3:16 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Blaxland proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government’s failure to support tradespeople in the housing construction industry.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:17 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

Today in question time we asked a whole bunch of questions about the HomeBuilder program, but I think the one that revealed the most about what makes this government tick was the question asked by member for Macquarie about people who had had their homes burned down in the bushfires over Christmas. I think we would all agree that if there was anybody we should try to help in this place, it is people who had their homes burned down, who need to rebuild their homes and rebuild their lives, who saw a lifetime of work and effort incinerated in front of them.

Under this HomeBuilder scheme, if you want to put another floor on your two-storey house and you can get the paperwork done in time then it is happy days—here is $25,000. But if you're one of those people who had your house burned down like the people in Bilpin, when the Prime Minister was on holidays in Hawaii, and you can't get the paperwork done by New Year's Eve, either because of trauma or problems with insurance companies or getting DAs through, then you might just miss out.

What we asked in question time today of the Prime Minister was for a little bit of help for these people, a guarantee that you'll be there for them to help them to access this scheme and he couldn't provide that assurance. In the teeth of these bushfires, as people had their homes burned down and other people saw flames lapping at their doors, people felt like the Prime Minister had abandoned them. They felt like the government had abandoned them. I fear now, when they hear this news, that people who had their homes burned down who can't get guaranteed access to this scheme—if things beyond their control mean they can't get to it—will feel abandoned and ignored again.

And it is not just these people who feel abandoned by this government; it is also the tradies and all the people who work in the home building industry. This is not a small industry. It employs about a million people and it's an industry that relies on a continuous pipeline of work, a pipeline that's drying up at the moment. Everybody in this place, surely, now knows that this is an industry that's headed off a cliff. The predictions before the coronavirus hit said that there would be 160,000 homes built this year, plenty of work for the industry. Now it is predicted that will drop to as low as 100,000. If that happens, it means lots of tradies would lose their jobs, lots of people who make the materials to build homes would lose their jobs. That is why we have been banging on about this for weeks. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and I, and the whole team, have been saying that you have to take action to help save jobs in this industry. Last week, the government finally responded with this HomeBuilder scheme. But instead of building a guardrail at the top of the cliff, they've put a Tontine mattress at the bottom. Remember that I talked about 160,000 homes being built at the start of this year—at least that was the prediction from the Master Builders Association, which the minister mentioned in question time. Their prediction is that it will now drop to 100,000. They got Ernst & Young to do some analysis on what it would mean if you did different levels of stimulus. Based on what the government has put together here in HomeBuilder, it will provide a net extra 10,000 homes. So, it will help a bit. It will save some jobs and mean that some homes are built.

But it is not going to save all of those tradies' jobs. It will mean that, for a lot of tradies who would otherwise be on the job building homes, all they're going to be building is a longer line at Centrelink. Just for comparison sake think about what we did when the global financial crisis hit, because that smashed the housing industry like it is being smashed now. We put together a scheme that provided grants to first home owners to build new homes. We also funded the construction of new social housing and the repair and maintenance—you might call it renovation—of other homes.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

It was more than that, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese; it was 80,000—20,000 new homes and 80,000 homes renovated or repaired. It saved the jobs of lots of tradies and it helped stave off a recession. Compare that to what the government is doing here. You've got a crisis that is arguably bigger than it was during the GFC. The government's own documents say that the construction industry is being hit harder. More jobs are at risk. This is not about staving off a recession; we're already in a recession. What the government has put together in this HomeBuilder package is less than one-tenth of the rescue package we delivered for the industry during the GFC—so, bigger problem, smaller rescue package. That is why organisations like Credit Suisse have said, 'We doubt that the incentives delivered are large enough, nor the eligibility criteria wide enough to really move the needle.'

Unlike anything we did, there is nothing in here to help people who don't even have a roof over their heads. I think the last few months have reminded us all just how important a safe and affordable home is. We've all been told to stay at home. It's what has kept us safe. It is our homes that have provided the shield to protect us from the virus. Australians experiencing homelessness, people sleeping rough in our parks and streets, have been provided a home. They have been put into empty hotel and motel rooms. But that's all temporary and is set to end. There are more Aussies today who are homeless than ever before. That's what the census said. That stereotype of the average homeless person being an old bloke on a park bench with a bottle of grog in a brown paper bag is just not true. What do you think the largest group of Australians who are homeless is? It's mums and kids, fleeing domestic violence, trying to get a home for the night and getting knocked back because there's no bed. Which group of Australians do you think is the fastest growing group of homeless Australians at the moment? It is older women, those in the 55 to 65 age group. That could be our mum, our aunties or our sisters. Believe it or not, tonight, one in 10 Australians sleeping rough in Sydney are probably going to be veterans—somebody who wears medals on Anzac Day and sleeps in the park at night. There's nothing in this package for them, which is why the OECD this week said that we should be doing something here.

It could have been a win-win. We could have created homes for people who need them the most and created thousands and thousands of jobs for tradies. But we didn't get that. Instead, what we got was this: 'Renovation rescue for tradies' jobs'. That was on the front page of The Australian last Monday. I reckon there would have been a lot of people waking up and thinking, 'Well, I want to renovate the bathroom and the kitchen. Happy days, I'll be able to get some help here!' The Prime Minister encouraged that way of thinking, because he said, 'If you’ve been putting off that renovation, the extra 25 grand we're putting on the table now means it's time to get started.' It turns out that it's all rubbish. You see, if you want a new kitchen or a new dunny, it's easy; you just have to bulldoze the whole house. You've got to look at the detail. To qualify for this scheme, you've got to spend more than 150,000 bucks on the reno—$150,000 to $750,000 on a renovation—and you've got to earn less than $125,000 a year. I don't know about you, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, but I don't know a lot of people who have a lazy 150 grand laying around to lob into a renovation. I asked the Treasurer about this on Tuesday. I asked, 'How many people are going to be winners out of this renovation rescue?' The answer was 7,000. That's it—7,000 people. It's more 'Scotty Sham' than Scotty Cam, and that's why it has been almost universally bagged across the media.

I gave the minister some examples in question time today, from Domain. But it doesn't end there. I quote from a Daily Telegrapharticle titled 'Battler's hammer reno cash':

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's $688 million HomeBuilder plan has been slammed as a "kick in the guts" to Aussie battlers.

From The Weekend Australian: 'HomeBuilder doesn't go far enough for tradies'. From The Courier-Mail: 'Locals shun reno scheme'. Here's another one from The Courier-Mail: 'Concerns HomeBuilder scheme won't help the construction industry'. This is one from 'Scott Morrison's HomeBuilder scheme declared a "dud" that will make the well-off richer and fail to save construction jobs'.

This has gone off quicker than a seafood milkshake. Australians aren't stupid; they can see through the spin and see through slogan after slogan after slogan. They've worked it out; they've realised there's not much in this for them. I can't think of a better example where a government has developed this cynical marketing ploy to try to create the impression that they're doing something to help people instead of actually doing something to help.

This renovation rescue is only going to help a lucky few. Everyone else is left behind. The people who need a roof over their head—left behind. The mums and kids fleeing domestic violence—left behind. Thousands and thousands of tradies who need extra work—left behind. Worst of all, thousands of people who had their homes burned down could potentially miss out on the scheme. We couldn't get that guarantee from the Prime Minister today. That's why I say this is 'HomeBlunder'. The government has stuffed this up. We're in a recession. Thousands of jobs are at risk, and this government needs to take action to protect these jobs. (Time expired)

3:27 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow minister thinks he knows more than the industry. Each time the shadow minister refers to the HomeBuilder program as not supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in the residential construction industry, he says he knows more than the Master Builders Association or the HIA. The HIA have said that the HomeBuilder package will support the delivery of tens of thousands of new homes or renovation projects.

This shadow minister has got form. What we know will happen is that in three or four or maybe even two months time—certainly in six months time—he'll say, 'We never opposed HomeBuilder.' He'll say to the more than 20,000 people who buy their first home, a house-and-land package or an apartment, or to those people who undertake a substantial rebuild: 'No, no, we never opposed HomeBuilder. We just wanted to improve it. We never opposed giving you a $25,000 grant to purchase your first home.' We saw it with the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. Through Kristina Keneally, the Labor Party called the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme 'socialism' and criticised it. They adopted it shortly thereafter; I note that the shadow minister has very forcefully adopted the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, put in place by the Morrison government, and lauded what a wonderful program it is. So we know where this will end. We know that in the end the Labor Party will say: 'No, we always supported HomeBuilder. We always supported it. We just wanted to improve it.'

Let me tell members opposite what the HomeBuilder program is already doing. Rory Costelloe, from Villawood Properties, who deals predominantly in the first-home-buyer market, has said that since the HomeBuilder announcement numbers have dramatically risen to reach their highest levels since the boom days of 2017. They've gone from single-digit weekly sales in March, and they have increased exponentially since the announcement.

Now, at the end of the day, what do new-home sales for those builders mean?

Yes, of course, it means that there's a very happy young couple, possibly, or single person who's purchasing their first home, or a family who might be upgrading from their unit or townhouse to that family home, with the assistance of the Morrison government's HomeBuilder program. Yes, there'll be those good stories. But every single one of those sales that Villawood Properties refers to—or Oliver Hume, as I referred to earlier, or Simonds Properties—means jobs in the residential construction industry.

The Labor Party are no longer the party for those people who work in residential construction. They've got no idea about the lives they lead and they've got no idea about the pipeline of work that they need to sustain them. As I make the point each and every time I rise in this chamber, the hundreds of thousands of jobs are not just the jobs that we think about when you're pouring a slab or when the carpenter's putting up the frame or the bricklayer is laying the bricks, or the sparkies or plumbers or the roofers come on site. There is an entire ecosystem that the HomeBuilder program will support. Graham Wolf from the HIA said, 'The HomeBuilder Program will unlock up to $15 billion of activity in the residential construction industry'—$15 billion, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry. A great benefit will be that there will be more than 20,000 people who get to purchase a brand-new home, and the majority of those will be first home buyers realising that dream of getting a property of their own for the first time in their lives. We estimate there will be another 7,000—but it's a demand-driven program—who will undertake a substantial rebuild.

Let me address a couple of the points that were pretty woefully made by the shadow minister but I think were highlighted by the PM in question time. HomeBuilder, much to the chagrin of the Labor Party, is not intended to be pink batts 2.0. It is not pink batts 2.0, where 'Dodgy Brothers' are going door to door and getting vulnerable people to sign up for a new flat-pack kitchen or bathroom. That's what the Labor Party are suggesting every time they criticise this policy. This is for substantial projects that employ Australians—multiple trades. This is not for projects that arrive in a flat-pack box from IKEA and that were manufactured in another country and don't create any jobs in this country. Is that the program that the Labor Party think supports residential construction jobs in Australia? It shows they haven't learnt their lesson. They haven't learnt the lesson from pink batts. The shadow minister should have learnt his lesson—many of the members opposite weren't here then, so I don't blame them. But the shadow minister was a member of that government, and he should know better.

This policy provides a $25,000 grant for new home buyers, a $25,000 grant for substantial rebuilds. It's a program that will work seamlessly with state and territory based programs. I'm very pleased to report to the House, for those that don't already know, that the Western Australian Labor government have strongly backed in the HomeBuilder program and put in place their own $20,000 grant for new homes—not just for first home buyers but for new homes—to mirror, to a large degree, the federal government's HomeBuilder program. A new home purchaser, potentially a first home buyer in Western Australia, will be able to add all of those grants together to assist them to get into a first home. The Tasmanian state government has added a $20,000 new home buyer grant similarly, days after our announcement, to do the same thing. Again, we see governments at a federal and state level working in concert to support an extraordinarily important industry for this country. The workers in that industry have already benefited, to a large degree, from the JobKeeper program—120,000 registrations through JobKeeper have been from the construction industry. But, again, the one area that the shadow minister and I can agree on is that there is a cliff. There is a cliff face as the pipeline of work ends. Residential sales almost fell off a cliff in March—there were almost no sales. And that pipeline of work will hit in the second half of this year.

That is why another important part of the HomeBuilder program is to ensure that it's time-limited and that it brings forward that demand to when the shortfall in work is going to occur: in the second half of this year. We have seen so much evidence that the urgency that that has created means that it has been the catalyst for first home buyers, like the ones I referred to in question time, to say: 'You know what? Let's do it now. We've been trying to save that deposit. This is going to, firstly, help us with our serviceability. It's going to bring down the total amount that we have to put towards a home. Let's do it now. Let's do it before 31 December while this program is in place.'

Again, I fully suspect that the shadow minister and members opposite in a few months time will be furiously supporting this policy, just as they now furiously support the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. As I said, HomeBuilder works with not just state based programs but other Morrison government initiatives. The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme allows eligible first home buyers to purchase a home with a deposit of as little as five per cent. It has been extraordinarily popular. As I said, Senator Kristina Keneally referred to it as 'socialism' when it was first announced, and now the shadow minister enthusiastically supports the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme.

Well, what I am excited about is: on 1 July, when another 10,000 places under the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme become available, we will see first home buyers who utilise the Morrison government First Home Loan Deposit Scheme so that they only require a deposit of five per cent also getting a HomeBuilder grant because they purchase a new home—a house and land package or a new apartment. Those people will be utilising the full spectrum of support that the Morrison government has put in place to get people into a home, because, in the end, the coalition's parties are the parties of home ownership. The coalition's parties are the parties who support the residential construction industry, who support our tradies and who support the timber mill workers who supply the frames and the trusses. And I look forward to the shadow minister coming in here with his tail between his legs in some months time saying, 'Oh, yes, we always supported the HomeBuilder program.' (Time expired)

3:37 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it is no wonder that this scheme has quickly become known as 'home blunder' because, like so much that this government does, it was clearly always a matter of spin over substance, packaged up for a by-election announcement—even if the PM did make that most un-Australian of mistakes and encourage people to step on some newly sown grass while making it! It sounded like support for people to do renovations that they might not otherwise be confident to do during a recession and like it would help ensure jobs in the construction industry that could last through the recession. Instead, it's a bit of extra cash for wealthy people to go ahead with renovations they already had planned.

And you don't have to take my word for that. Here's some feedback from respected economists. My colleague the member for Fenner has looked at the numbers and, on the ABS data, concluded this would support the wealthiest fifth of Australians. Nicki Hutley, a partner at Deloitte Access Economics observed:

All I can see that this is going to do is give a hand out to people who probably would have gone ahead with this anyway … If people were baulking about going ahead because they were worried about the economy or job security, it's probably not a good idea to encourage them to do so.

And quite frankly giving handouts to people, who already own their homes when there are so many who can't get their foot in the door would seem to me to be not very wise policy.

She went on to say:

The cynic in me would say they're under a lot of pressure from the sector to do something, and quite rightly. It's actually a cornerstone of the Australian economy and one of the largest sectors …

I don't see this as cynical. It is, in fact, calling out the government for exactly what it has done: spin over substance.

If the government really wanted to support the construction industry, they would do much better to look at the suggestions that Labor has put on the table. They would do much better to look to the huge need in this country for social housing. We have too many people sleeping rough in this country. We have women and children at risk of violence in their own homes who have nowhere to go. We have people with disability stuck in nursing homes because there's nowhere suitable for them to live. We have frontline workers—the supermarket workers, the police, the nurses and the childcare workers; the people we've talked up and who we've been relying on through this crisis—who can't afford to live anywhere near their work. All of these people would have their lives changed dramatically if this government would step up and support them. But is that what they're interested in doing? I might have missed it, but did the Assistant Treasurer talk about these people at all? Did he reference them? Did he reference the support that they need? I heard a lot about Labor in his speech, which really goes to show where their focus is: attacking Labor, with spin over substance, and support for the wealthy, not for people who need it most.

Again, you don't have to take my word for the fact that this is a dud scheme. We know that investing in social housing would genuinely provide construction jobs into the future and not rely on work that would have happened anyway. The OECD, whose report the government has made so much of this week, has called for investment in a social housing program as part of efforts to support jobs through this recession. The PM just said there's no greater focus for his government than jobs post this crisis. Well, this isn't the scheme for that.

The PM also just said that the scheme was never meant to support small renovations. He spoke about how in fact he'd deliberately cut out lower and middle income earners from being supported through this scheme, and then he had the gall to suggest that it was people over this side that might be out of touch with people in the suburbs. I know the Prime Minister has been very busy dealing with the crisis, and I do understand that, but, if he suggests that we haven't been out in the suburbs, I suggest it might be time for him to go out and talk with a few low- and middle-income earners in Australia about how they feel about this scheme, because it certainly will not be supporting them.

Of course, the other thing this scheme does not do is support the jobs of the future. We know we already have a crisis in terms of apprenticeships, trade training and TAFE in this country. Before this happened, the TAFEs in my electorate were telling me they're struggling. They were telling me they're not getting the support they need to get the pipeline of workers we will need in these industries in the future. Now the industry are saying they're facing the loss of 2,000 apprentices a year. There's nothing in this package that supports that or that will mean that we get construction jobs into the future, that we'll have apprentices or that we'll have an industry going forward. This is a failure of a scheme.

3:42 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What an opportunity this afternoon is to strip away a lot of the politics and go to the heart of one of the most important sectors in Australia's economy, the construction and building sector! Many of us agreed that, when it came to shedding jobs in the second half of the year, probably the most important sector we had to look at that wasn't easily addressed with some of the other nationwide payments was building and construction. So today I just want to unpick a little exactly what this scheme is all about and, secondly, try and decipher precisely why Labor are animating themselves at the end of a working week to try and pull apart this job-making scheme, which focuses on a sector that most critically needs it—the valley of death, as the Master Builders have referred to.

First of all, let's just remember this is fundamentally a new home-buying scheme, not overly dissimilar to schemes that the Labor Party have not only proposed and supported but actually initiated. Overwhelmingly—in about 75 per cent of the cases—it will be new homes being built. I will explain to the Labor Party—whose speeches, straight from the opposition leader's office, have been eloquently read in this chamber but are not responding to the particular question—that this is about additional housing stock. Think about this: additional housing stock.

When you've only done five minutes of economics, you often don't understand that where a subsidy is paid is not always where it lands. There is something we call subsidy incidence, the opposite of tax incidence. What it means is: if the government pays a certain amount of money, where does it end up? It doesn't end up with wealthy people, because they are deliberately excluded from the scheme, and it doesn't necessarily end up with the person one pays the subsidy to, because they immediately pay that subsidy to a building company who employ people. But the problem here is that those people are probably not union members, and that's the fundamental heart of the Labor objection to this scheme, because they are obsessed with large commercial construction, where they have union membership at stake. They have almost no union membership in small housing construction, and this is a very bad thing for the Labor Party.

This is what is at the heart of this. What are we trying to fix here? We saw gouged out of Australia's economy the construction of housing and the confidence to move into housing projects. I speak as someone who's been involved in a property subdivision and understands just how complicated these schemes are. While they were on ice—

Mr Dick interjecting

It's not an illegal activity, I might remind the member for Oxley. These people deliver housing for the people who need it most.

I want to say this: let's remember that, for every bit of housing delivered in this nation, you add to the housing stock. Whether you pay it to a first-home builder, a person who builds a new rebuild or someone who engages a major renovation, you free up another dwellings to be rented back into the market, bringing down rental prices and improving the prospects of those who need social housing—those who receive the $4.5 billion in rent assistance. You simply need more stock, and that's why you don't support renovations of kitchens and bathrooms with the scheme. It's not, as Labor will put to you, because you don't like the people that build bathrooms and kitchens; it's because it doesn't add to the housing stock one iota. It doesn't improve the situation for renters. It doesn't help social housing. And the overwhelming majority of those who need government assistance to secure housing receive rent assistance. For every new home we build, there's one more home, left behind by the person who applied for the scheme and moved into the new house, that's available for renters—something that's completely beyond the Labor Party. I appreciate that, when there's no union membership involved, suddenly the scheme isn't legitimate, but it's almost identical to the scheme the Labor Party brought out during the GFC. We've simply broadened the scheme from a new-build scheme to a new-build/rebuild scheme. There will be about 7,000 examples—let's say 40 per electorate. If there's a major rebuild that adds to the housing stock, as defined by the ATO, so be it.

As for the last argument from Labor about the lazy $150,000 lying around, that's not how you buy a house. You talk to a lender when you buy a house. This is not designed for people with money lying around that's 'lazy', as they so disappointingly describe it. One goes to a lender and asks if one can build a home or substantially rebuild a home. That is now a definition that's understood. Every tradie who sided with Labor now understands that and has sided with the government. Every job created is important in this sector. We value this sector. We understand them. We're not about eking out union memberships from them. And for every house that's built under this scheme—and we anticipate up to 20,000, possibly more—that's new rental stock left behind by those who move into the newly constructed homes.

3:47 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always a delight to follow on from the genius member for Bowman, who's spent 16 years languishing on the backbench. They say, 'Our colleagues know us once.' We often ask ourselves why he has not spent one minute on the frontbench. After that demonstration, we know the answer. When I was growing up, my father would often say, 'Come off the grass.' He used that expression all the time when I was a kid. This government is so arrogant that, when they announce policies, they go to someone's front yard and stand all over the grass and then have to asked to get off the grass. Great advancing, PMO! Well done on a great start. It says everything we need to know about this arrogant government—arrogance when announcing the scheme and arrogance in its implementation.

The HomeBuilder scheme looks like it's completely failing. From what we can see so far, as of 3.50 this afternoon, nobody has applied for it. If you go on the website, you can't even formally apply. The federal government website only asks people to provide their email address. This is in complete contrast to last week's front page of The Australian: 'Renovation rescue for tradies' jobs'. I thought: here we go! 'Work for one million tradies' is what they said. The only problem is, as we found out this week, it's for 7,000 renovations. It's all rubbish. As the shadow minister said, it's not 'Scotty Sham'; it's Scotty Cam. But we know that, time and time again, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to this government.

You only need to look at some of the News Corp headlines: 'Scott Morrison's HomeBuilder scheme declared a "dud" that will make the well-off richer and fail to save construction jobs'. The article says:

Experts say the government's HomeBuilder scheme will do little more than fund fancy decks for well-off people to sip Chardonnay on and overpriced luxury kitchens full of European fittings and fixtures … HomeBuilder has been described as "a good idea gone bad" …

We know from the coverage of this that it has been described as 'possibly the most complex and least equitable program the government could have devised to deliver construction jobs'. A quote from the news coverage of this in the News Limited papers said:

Rather than provide a lifeline to the struggling construction sector, which is at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs as demand slumps … the program "is a way of making people who are reasonably well off richer".

"It might build more nice decks for sipping Chardonnay – most already planned – (and) it might deliver ritzy new bathrooms with imported taps or even new kitchens with the latest European appliances, but it won't help those suffering housing stress," …

There you have it: experts ridiculing this policy.

I want to turn to my home state of Queensland. In the Courier Mail this week, the article 'Few Queenslanders plan to take up HomeBuilder scheme for renovations' said:

Just 0.03 per cent of Queenslanders were forecast to take up the $25,000 HomeBuilder grant to do a major renovation, with the Federal Government banking on a higher uptake for new home builds.

Here we have an announcement by the government—great headlines splashed across all the newspapers—but, when you drill down into this, when you actually look into it, what the scheme doesn't deliver is one extra cent for social housing. Not one extra cent! While the government's priority is to build fancy decks for people to drink Chardonnay on, to the people who are waiting to get into housing, the thousands of Queenslanders on waiting lists, this government says: 'Wait your turn. Just wait because we've got other priorities.' This government's priorities are all wrong.

We know that it's incredibly disappointing that the government refuses to take action on constructing more social housing, on repairing and maintaining existing social housing, on the construction of more rental accommodation for frontline workers and on the expansion of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme for new builds and grants to first home buyers who buy their own first home. This scheme is a dud, it's not going to work and, today, we condemn the government for not delivering a program to deliver real construction jobs and housing for this country. (Time expired)

3:52 pm

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased for this opportunity today to say some words around the government's HomeBuilder program. This is another important plank in the platform that this government has built to support our economy. After all Australians have done so very well at flattening the curve of coronavirus, we must now shift our focus—as we are—to our No. 1 priority of securing and building more jobs.

The HomeBuilder program will support one million jobs. We're talking about jobs for tradies like carpenters, tilers, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers and, of course, those involved in the manufacturing of home building materials—things like the wood that goes into construction, the windows that go into those houses, the tiles that go onto the roof. This program is designed to drive demand today for those families whose ability to enter the market was impacted by the coronavirus but who are now ready to build or substantially renovate their property. We have seen over 2,000 people in WA sign up to get to the next level and receive more information about how they can apply, and they join over 20,000 people nationally.

I'm also pleased to note that the state government in my home state of Western Australia has a complimentary building bonus package of $20,000 for the construction of a new home. This, combined with the first home owners grant of $10,000 and first home buyers stamp duty concession of $14,000, really shows how the WA state government and the federal government are working together to jointly back in the residential construction sector.

There has been a consistent theme during this crisis. We've seen state and territory leaders, both coalition and Labor, join with our federal leader with a single focus, a shared mission of saving lives and livelihoods. Regardless of how well those in my electorate and around the country have perceived the government's response, those opposite seem intent on dragging it down and talking down the economy. That's not the feedback I'm getting in my electorate. Recently, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Michaelia Cash, and I had a tele town hall. We invited people to join a live conference with us. We said: 'Tell us what's going well. Let's hear your suggestions for improvement.' We were there to listen. We had some great conversations, and along the way we posed a question. We said: 'Do you (1) generally approve of the Morrison government's response to COVID-19 or (2) generally disapprove of the Morrison government's response to COVID-19?' Those opposite, who frankly are trying to drag down the government's response, may be interested to know that of the respondents on that phone call 93 per cent agreed with the government's response to coronavirus. I welcome others to conduct their own surveying, but certainly, both anecdotally and now statistically, I can share that Australians approve of the government's response.

Are we perfect? No, of course not. Is our response perfect? No, it's not. We are listening and you will have observed that we have made amendments along the way. But fundamentally this is focused not on what is happening inside these four walls but on supporting all Australians through this very difficult time. One of the best ways we can do that is to support jobs, which this package is absolutely focused upon.

We've also been accused of being insensitive to public housing. That is rubbish and is something that my colleagues and I will absolutely not cop. This government provides more than $6 billion every year to support Australians who need housing assistance: $4.6 billion in Commonwealth rent assistance and $1.6 billion to states and territories to support homelessness services. In my first speech I spoke about a very personal encounter of myself and my wife supporting a young mother with a baby and two children, who rapidly became homeless. When we reached out on her behalf for support for housing it was absolutely there.

This debate highlights a significant difference between both sides of the House. Those opposite are focused on talking down our economy and the government's response, and we are focused absolutely, as we will remain so, on saving lives and livelihoods.

3:57 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I join my colleagues today in speaking about the home blunder program, a $688 million scheme to help people who were already going to build a house, build that house. What a program! My colleagues have highlighted the lack of ambition that this government has when it comes to stimulating the economy and the construction industry: $688 million, versus Labor's investment of almost $7 billion in social housing when the global financial crisis hit. It is astounding that, even in a pandemic, this government has prioritised home renos for rich people over public housing for Australians who need a roof over their head. As my colleague the member for Fenner has pointed out, only the wealthiest fifth of Australians will be eligible for this scheme. It is astounding that, in a year when thousands of Australians have lost their homes in the bushfires, that is not a focus of this program. When the member for Macquarie asked question about that today in question time, the Prime Minister failed to give an assurance that those people would be able to access any support through this scheme.

The pandemic has made it clearer than ever that safe and secure housing is fundamental to the health and safety of human beings. Our homes have become our sanctuaries as we have socially distanced over the last few months. In Canberra, as we were blanketed by hazardous smoke for most of January, our houses protected us from that toxic bushfire smoke that the bushfire royal commission has heard is linked to the deaths of 445 Australians—that is, for those of us that were lucky enough to have a home. Housing is essential to living a good life, and yet over 116,000 Australians don't have a home. In the five years to 2016, the latest ABS data on this issue, homelessness increased by around 14 per cent. This is a national disgrace. If the government truly wanted to support tradespeople in the housing construction industry, they would build homes for these 116,000 Australians. Not only would you be helping tradespeople; you'd be creating a demand for new workers in the building industry and you'd be saving governments over $25,000 per homeless person—according to research from the University of Melbourne—if you housed people rather than leaving them on the streets. It is this kind of multipronged public policy that has been missing from this government during the pandemic. We have a perfect storm here, where we have people without their homes and a need to stimulate the economy, and that's where we should be investing.

Australians are calling out for vision in these dark times, but the Prime Minister is not delivering. Even before the pandemic, the huge fall in the number of apprentice tradies in Australia demonstrates that the housing construction industry was under stress. As my colleague the member for Sydney pointed out just yesterday, under this government, Australia has lost 140,000 apprentices and trainees since the coalition came to power. According to new modelling from the National Australian Apprenticeships Association, we're set to lose another 100,000 by the end of the year. If the Prime Minister wanted to create jobs for these apprentices, a social housing construction boom would go a long way to saving this lost generation of tradies.

Of course, Labor were ahead of the government in our vision for reforming the economy in the face of economic downturn. No. 1 on our shadow minister's list of recommendations to the government was to construct more social housing; No. 2 was to repair and maintain existing social housing; No. 3 was to construct more affordable rental housing for frontline workers; and the final two recommendations focused on first home buyers and builders—the group of Australians most locked out of housing ownership. These are recommendations based on research. These are recommendations that respond to known issues faced by Australians. We get these ideas from experts and from our community. Where did the government get their plan from? Where is the research that shows that people who earn $125,000 a year and have $150,000 to spend on a renovation or building a house are in desperate need of $25,000? Can someone on that side of the chamber please table this research for us to consider.

Here in the ACT, the Barr government will deliver the highest investment in social housing per capita of any jurisdiction in Australia, spending $100 million to deliver 1,000 renovated public housing properties and 200 additional public housing homes. That is the sort of prioritisation of people in need that we need to see from this government. That is the kind of investment in housing that we need to see for people who are struggling to get into the market. This government is leaving too many people behind as it responds to this pandemic and more generally.

4:02 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to rise in the chamber this afternoon to defend the government's HomeBuilder program. It's always pleasing, when I sit here and listen to the Labor members opposite, to remind myself how little they have learnt from their failures of the past. They keep going back to this failed narrative that shows how out of touch they are with Australian families and Australian tradies. They just fall back into their narrative of class warfare—the member for Jagajaga and the member for Oxley went there in a flash. Let's hope that the member for Jagajaga and the member for Oxley are in charge of the opposition's policies at the next election, because, if they keep relying on this class warfare nonsense, they will continue to be completely out of touch with the tradies and the families of this nation, who this government is supporting with a program like this. It's the same class warfare strategy that led them to the last election with a policy of introducing $31 billion in new housing taxes. What was that going to mean for the tradies and for the jobs in the construction industry of Australia? The Master Builders Association found that Labor's policies at the last election would have led to 42,000 fewer new dwellings, 32,000 fewer full-time jobs and an $11.8 billion drop in building activity. That is Labor's record. We, as a government, are about building and creating jobs. They are about stopping that building, tearing it down and taxing construction industry jobs out of existence. Instead, we have created the HomeBuilder program to provide a tax-free grant of $25,000 to build a new home or substantially renovate.

The HomeBuilder program will support rather than destroy jobs. It will support 140,000 direct jobs and another one million related jobs in residential construction. Just to demonstrate how in touch with the Australian people this program is, we have already had over 20,000 suburban families registering for the program as the states start signing up and rolling it out, including over 5,408 families in our home state of Queensland. The member for Oxley was just up on his feet, deriding the program and saying it was only for the rich. Well, here we have it: he's ignoring the 5,408 families of Queensland who are already signed up and are just waiting on the Queensland state Labor government to help us administer this program.

Mr Thompson interjecting

He could indeed. I'll take the member for Herbert's interjection. The member for Oxley could just call his brother, the state Treasurer, and get things moving for those 5,408 families, but, instead, he sits here and plays class warfare. This is a thought out, targeted program that recognises the unique challenges that the construction industry is facing post COVID and the real possibility of the construction pipeline drying up. The HomeBuilder program will prevent that.

It's important to have these kinds of thought out, targeted programs, because we know what happens when you don't. When you have a program that isn't thought out, that is rushed in and that isn't targeted, you end up with programs like the pink batts program that the Labor members opposite rolled out. What does that do? It doesn't create jobs. In fact, their rollout, which cost over $2 billion, resulted in over 220 house fires, 70,000 repairs and—most tragic of all—four deaths, because they didn't take the time to think out and properly target their program. Over $1 billion has been spent just to rectify the problems that the Labor members created. So we won't take any lectures from the Labor members opposite as we roll out these programs. We will make sure that we implement programs which are, indeed, thought out and targeted and have a specific aim. And, in this case, it is ensuring that there is a considered pipeline of work for the construction industry to undertake over the next six months.

As a government, we are creating jobs and we are building. We won't entertain the objections from the Labor members, who simply want to tear things down and go back to the class warfare and rhetoric of the last election, which served them so poorly. This government will continue to implement the HomeBuilder program, create jobs and support Australian families.

4:07 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a risible performance from the Liberal members today. The way they're behaving, you would think that we are against the idea of stimulus for the housing and construction sector, when actually we are the people arguing that it needs to go further and that they need to do better. They're not doing enough to stimulate the sector. Australia is set to lose a further 100,000 apprentices and trainees this year, a massive 35 per cent drop on what we have now. Tasmania is set to lose 2,107. It's no wonder that our nation has a shortage of bricklayers, plumbers, hairdressers, panelbeaters and other critical trades. How does this Prime Minister expect HomeBuilder to rebuild communities and the economy when his government has slashed support for the apprentices and trainees who are vital to the building and construction industry?

Over the past seven years, this incompetent Liberal government has ripped more than $3 billion from Australia's TAFE and training systems, leaving this critical sector woefully unequipped. No wonder Australia has a skills shortage, with more than 140,000 apprentice and trainee positions lost in this country since those opposite came to office. There are 140,000 already lost, and another 100,000 are soon to join them under this government. What a legacy. It's all very well to talk about construction projects and renovations, but you need tradies and apprentices to build them. The sector was expecting to build 160,000 homes this year. Now it's 100,000. That's 60,000 fewer homes in the pipeline.

This Prime Minister has a plan to get his photo taken next to tradies in high-vis but no real plan to save and build the sector. HomeBuilder is a massive missed opportunity. It is woefully inadequate and woefully misdirected. What sort of person who claims to be a national leader would think up a $688 million housing and renovation program and not put one cent—not one cent—towards public housing or towards housing for women escaping domestic violence?

There are 3,500 Tasmanians on Tasmania's priority public housing list. People could be waiting for a year or more for a place. We are talking about pensioners, veterans, single parents, people with disabilities, women escaping domestic violence, people who could do with a bit of a hand and, more importantly, a roof over their head. Dave, for instance, has been on the housing priority list for several years and lives in a car. He sleeps on his mate's couches sometimes. He has been told to go to a men's shelter but it doesn't have room and Dave is keen for a place to call home. Then there is Bill, living in a one-bedroom public house now, away from his wife and the grandchild they care for. Bill is in a wheelchair and the unit is not wheelchair friendly. He is desperate to reunite with his family.

If you are not convinced by the social good argument, be convinced by the raw economic argument. Tradies would be kept busier building more homes for these folk and fixing public housing than they would be building pool decks and second storeys. Imagine the maintenance backlogs that could have been cleared if armies of tradies were deployed to fix up public housing around the country in desperate need of repair—mould in kids' bedrooms because of crappy ventilation, leaking kitchens, dangerous electrical outlets, security fly screens that don't lock. What is the better use of public money? Which one delivers the better bang for buck?

Instead, this Prime Minister has designed a scheme that gives $25,000 to people with at least $150,000 to spend on a reno and it locks out the vast majority of Tasmanians. I asked local builders in my electorate how many had done renovations of $150,000 over the past couple of years? There was one reno in two years—one. This is a poorly designed scheme that fails to do what it is meant to—stimulate building and construction, which was sputtering even before COVID, and since then is heading for the cliff.

The Prime Minister's performance in question time today was a disgrace when he said he had deliberately designed a scheme to lock pensioners out. Pensioners who want to renovation their kitchens, he has deliberately locked them out and he basically labelled the entire small trade sector 'crooked' and a 'sham'. He stands condemned for that, and I hope people remember it at the next election.

4:12 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the shadow minister for the opportunity to speak about a few things I am really passionate about—jobs, housing and Western Sydney. There is nothing a family wants more than to have their own home. I've seen in our community the devastating impacts on families when affordability is out of reach. Prior to coming into parliament, I worked at a community housing provider where I saw first-hand the benefits of our government investing in affordable housing in my own community, in Lindsay, for women escaping domestic violence and for families who were struggling to make ends meet and, at the other end of the spectrum, people who had been experiencing homelessness, getting back on their feet again.

Our government invests in housing and our government, the Morrison government, invests in affordable housing. In fact, in my electorate of Lindsay, a community housing provider has made use of the Morrison government's National Housing Infrastructure Facility to help unlock new housing supply. I remember the day that I met a woman in one of those apartments in Penrith who talked about her new life after she escaped domestic violence and the aspiration she had for her future. I stood at this apartment with Minister Sukkar to announce this housing for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. At Harts Landing at Thornton, 114 affordable homes were made available for people in my community who need them and 14 social housing dwellings because the Morrison government invests in housing. These apartments are right next door to shops and public transport, and they have changed people's lives—people who had been living out of their cars.

Affordable housing is fundamental to all Australians, not just those who need a safe place to live but also those who are employed in our construction industry and the small and medium sized business owners that are contracted to help put these projects together. This is what the Morrison government is investing in—homes and jobs. It's what builds aspiration. When we invest in housing, we invest in people's future, and now the Morrison government is doing it again. We know that the residential construction sector has not been immune from coronavirus. We need to make sure there is a steady line of work for the housing industry, which is so important to people's aspirations, to people's future, to families.

There are 19,300 technicians, labourers and tradies in Lindsay, and nearly 1,600 apprentices. It is estimated that the HomeBuilder program will support a million tradies—carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, bricklayers—as well as timber mill workers and manufacturers of roofing tiles, bricks and windows. There is nothing I am more passionate about than manufacturing, particularly in Western Sydney, because that is about backing local jobs. If it is about supporting jobs in my community, it is worth backing. It's important we don't politicise the issue of housing and the construction industry; it is about job creation and sustaining the industry during and after the coronavirus pandemic and it's about removing barriers to accessing the housing industry. About 20,000 people are expected to take up the grant for new homes, and already around 4,000 are lined up across New South Wales. I know that interest in my community is high around first home owner grants in particular.

Through this MPI, those opposite have given me the opportunity to talk about construction, which is fantastic, because, in addition to new homes, the Morrison government is supporting the construction industry right across my community of Western Sydney. In Lindsay, the North South Rail Link starts at St Marys, and we have three rail stations. Last week I joined the Prime Minister to announce the $11 billion investment in my community. This project alone will unlock thousands of construction jobs. We have the construction of three commuter car parks across Lindsay, in Emu Plains, Kingswood and St Marys, with $60 million invested into Lindsay. The Western Sydney Airport is a $5.3 billion investment, where we already have over 50 per cent local jobs. We have $63½ million going into Dunheved Road. And now we have the investment in the HomeBuilder package, creating and sustaining jobs and supporting Australian families and supporting my community of Lindsay. (Time expired)

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.